Jonathan Shrager recently interviewed the infamous Pete Boyle, MUFC’s most famous, non-famous fan. Originally, he intended to procure Pete’s opinions on the newly-trialled Singing Section, but what ensued was an extensive conversation into Señor.Boyle’s life as United’s chant composer, and chant conductor extraordinaire.
In this first part, he broaches multiple topics, including Pete’s relationship with players past and present (including some amusing anecdotes), Pete’s verdict on David Moyes and the club’s transitional phase, his sentiments regarding chants of players who’ve allegedly “wronged” club, the abuse he receives on Twitter by opposing fans, and much, much more.
JS: Hi Pete, how’s it going pal?
PB: Ok Jonny yeah. I work at Manchester Airport nowadays. Bit annoying if I can’t make it to a game. Yesterday, a lot of my Red mates passed through the airport en route to the Sociedad away game, including my best man. The team was also travelling yesterday, so I saw a few of the United players, ex-players and staff, and we let on to each other. My work colleagues were wondering “what’s going on here?”, as they’re not all aware of what I do.
I caught Paddy walking out of the corner of my eye. My boss was giving us all a bit of a pep-talk, and Paddy shouts over, “So you got through that police check ok Peter?!” A former club official was stood nearby, and he assured Paddy that he had given me a reference. Not all my work colleagues are into football, so they’re not aware of who these people are, but the ones that know are all looking round at each other going “Hey?!” If any of them asked me about it, I just act all casual, you know, haha.
I’ve known Paddy Crerand a long time, and I’ve been away with him on a few occasions where I’ve got him the gig. One of his sons, Danny Crerand, was in the year above me at my school, and had a place at United’s youth team for a bit, and went on to work at the club. There were very few kids who went to most of the games from a young age, but Danny and I did. Danny obviously went through his connections at the club, and he knew all the legends, like Robbo, who would drink in Paddy’s pub.
Phil Neville then passes through and we always have a good natter if he’s at the airport. It’s good that Phil makes time to chat to an ordinary fan like me. He gets his phone out to show me something, as if I’m the footballer. It was an image from a new film soon to be released about the class of ’92. The premiere is taking place in Manchester, and I’ve already been invited. When I informed Phil of this, he shook his head, laughing, as if to be like, “I can’t tell you anything.”
And finally, Choccy popped over to greet me. I’m going away with Brian McClair again to Norway in a couple of weeks. I’ve taken Brian to few gigs over the years. Back in ’97, Choccy came on the Primal Scream tour bus with me in Manchester, from the hotel to the gig at The Ritz, and I took him backstage. We’ve been on a tour bus together with Catatonia. I also took him to The Stone Roses in Heaton Park last summer.
JS: Back in the early 90s, there was a popular notion that circulated about Choccy being a very intelligent. Has he done a degree?
PB: There are loads on myths on his Wikipedia page about Choccy being a trained accountant; he’s a very clever bloke; he was Fergie’s lifeline on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” but he didn’t know the answer. He’s a very intelligent bloke, but he left his university studies to concentrate on football.
JS: I hear you’re in the car, Pete. Are you en route to the Bishop’s to watch the game?
PB: I never watch the game in a pub. I get too antagonized, and I spend too much time explaining why I’m not at the game. I just shut the curtains and watch it on my own, or with the family.
JS: That makes sense. And when I contacted you the other week, you were just about to go on holiday. Where did you get to? Does this interrupt your MUFC-viewing?
PB: I was away in Egypt, so I missed Fulham away, but you’ve got to do the family stuff sometimes. I still do well; My wife’s a Red, I met her at a United game. I make it to most domestic aways, as well as a couple in Europe. Additionally, there are my trips. I was in Norway recently, and I’m going to Norway again in a few weeks. I’ve got a Copenhagen excursion booked in for February. So I go on trips to Scandinavia around 4 times per year. I get a free trip and there’s some great banter with the ex-players who accompany me. She lets me go, but I assure her that I’m “working,” as I stagger back through the door smelling of ale.
I’d like to get one of these gigs every month, but they’re very sporadic. I didn’t go to Norway for about 3 years, but then last year, I went 3 times in 8 weeks. It’s a bit mad really.
One of them was bizarre, surreal almost. When we won 2-3 away at Chelsea last October, I was keen to go to the game, but I was offered one of my most unusual gigs yet. I flew out to Norway from Manchester on the Saturday night with Wilf McGuinness, Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan. At the time Joe Jordan was out of work. We stayed in Oslo on the Saturday night, and on Sunday we boarded a cruise ship from Oslo to Kiel in Germany. On the day of the game against Chelsea, I sung in a bar on the ship to around 60-80 Scandinavian Reds, with a guitarist backing me up. Many of these fans I recognized from over the years at the Bishops Blaize. It wasn’t a shut-off private room; it was more of an open-bar type affair, with plenty of non-Reds pottering about. They must have thought I was the ship entertainment. They were just passengers on the ship, clapping politely as I trawled through some United songs about City, like “you think your moustache is trendy.” Because of the audience I felt obliged to amend a couple of words; so instead of “why don’t City fuck off home,” I sang “why don’t City go back home.”
They must’ve been thinking to themselves, “How can the ship employ him as a singer?” Meanwhile, Wilf, Gordon and Joe were all grinning in the corner probably thinking to themselves, “How on earth did we all get this gig?” It was a funny and surreal weekend that I couldn’t turn down. Singing on a cruise ship about United.
JS: Haha, that’s immense, you’ve got a great gig there. It’s evident that you share a good rapport with certain MUFC players, particularly ex-players from decades past. It’s well-documented that modern day players are less in touch with the fans. Is it possible to foster any similar relationships with current squad members?
PB: It is a lot different. In lots of ways, you can’t really blame players for taking the opportunities that present themselves nowadays. I don’t think many fans can relate to any modern players. They lead a different lifestyle. The players that I’ve met individually are really nice guys. If you were in any profession, and you get offered ten times the going rate, because all of a sudden it becomes popular to become an electrician or a plumber, for example, obviously you’d take it. More than ever, it’s the hangers-on with footballers, the WAG situation for example. There have always been superstars in football, but nowadays footballers at all levels of the game can be earning more in a season than most of us could in a lifetime. That’s the most distressing thing, really.
When I was a kid, I used to get 2 free buses from Altrincham down to Salford to get the players’ autographs. You could still go and watch your idols, such as Eric, at The Cliff until Carrington was formed. I understand to an extent why they’ve had to increase the level of security, including even permitting autographs, because it’s a racket with people opening shops or websites to sell signed stuff. But it’s a shame that kids can’t just wander down and watch their idols train. It’s the same at most clubs now. It’s a reflection of modern society.
I had one of them throwaway cameras that I’d take to The Cliff. Or I’d take a camera on holiday once a year. Nowadays, with smart phones, footballers cannot escape. People probably ask them for photos in toilets. Where do footballers draw the line? I know they get paid a lot, and they should be polite, but if they’re having a meal with their family, it must be hard to always comply by giving fans an autograph.
Rio told me an interesting story in an interview a couple of years back. He realizes he has a privileged life now, but he didn’t have much as a kid. He used to go on caravan holidays. So, a few years back he decided to take his family and kids to a caravan site at Presthaven Park in North Wales, just to show his child how he used to holiday. He arrived at the Park, and within half an hour, a queue had formed in the arcade of people wanting pics and signatures. He complied, but his other half and kid got a bit upset, as they wanted some family time. And then you wonder why some players only frequent exclusive places. I realize some will only go there because they’re snobs who are so far removed, but they’re not all like that. Someone like Rio, often labeled as someone out of touch by people who don’t know him, tries to do normal stuff with his family, and it ends up that he can’t do right for doing wrong. Similarly, if a player went to a normal pub regularly whilst playing for the first team, you’d get people sniping at him for showing off. So, sometimes it’s a no-win situation for them.
There will be footballers who earn so much that they may not feel the need to mix with ordinary people. Amongst everything, it is a lot of hassle. Their representatives might also advise them to keep a low profile. With the smartphones, people can capture anything, and then get straight onto social media to tweet out a picture of a footballer. So for example, a player might be eating out two days before a big game, and there’s a pint next to him on his table. Suddenly, there’s a mini-scandal irrespective of whether it’s true.
JS: As a result of these changes, have you yourself been able to forge some close relationships with current players?
PB: I don’t want to name any names. There are a handful of players who I know personally, who I talk to, and who I like. If I see them, they address me by name. I wouldn’t really say that we are pals, but I get on with them well. I get on well with a lot of the ex-players that have roles at the club, I know the Nevs and I’m on first-name terms with a lot of the coaching staff.
Personally, I don’t really go out into Manchester, so I wouldn’t try to blag my way into a bar via my contacts. I’m a changed person. I go out on a match day but I don’t go to events all the time like I used to 15 years ago, and more players were accessible because of those events. I think there’s still some good grounding, and some United players know the score.
JS: Yes, and it’s certainly very apparent through public mediums like Twitter that you have a jovial rapport with the Nevs.
PB: There are a couple of other players who follow me on Twitter, who either currently play for the club or who are out on loan. I’ve met them socially, but I wouldn’t see myself going out for pints with them, and they probably wouldn’t go out with me. If we happened to be together in a social situation, we’d happily chat away with each other. But that side of things has changed. They know me because of some of the things I’ve done, and they’re aware of my unofficial role.
I’m happy when I look back at the players with who I’ve socialized during after-dinner speaking events. I’ve been abroad with a lot of the ’77 cup final team on work trips, and I’ve worked with probably half of them at some stage, including Stepney, Albiston, McIlroy, the late Brian Greenhoff, Buchan (I was his paper boy as a kid, and he was one of the coolest players of that era), Jimmy Greenhoff (my first idol before Cantona), Pearson, Macari, Hill. I know a lot about that era, so I can make the players feel at ease during Q&As by teeing them up with facts, so they’re not always on the spot. I grew up watching these players with my dad when I was 7-years old. I’ve sometimes had to pinch myself. I’m very lucky to be able to mix with the people I used to idolize, whether from the 70s, 80s or the 90s. It’s a real honour for me.
When Brian Greenhoff passed away, Buchan, who works for the PFA, rung me as a go-between to confirm the details of Brian’s funeral. Martin and Gordon Taylor also wanted to know the address of Brian’s family, so that they could send them a bouquet of flowers on behalf of the PFA. I was really gutted when Brian passed, at such a young age; I’d spoken to him a couple of months earlier regarding his autobiography.
JS: It is very sad regarding Brian. Are you at liberty to recount any amusing anecdotes from your times fraternizing with ex-MUFC players?
PB: One of the funniest memories I have is when I took Alex Stepney and a couple of other players over to Ireland for a United Q&A evening. Alex was flying out with me and my mate Mark. I had sent Alex all the details via email regarding the flight to Dublin, and had planned to meet him on the plane. Mark and I arrived to the plane at literally the last second before boarding finished, having mixed up the Gate numbers for the flight. Having had a few pints already, we stumbled onto the plane panicking, and spotted Alex looking very coy. It was a Ryanair flight, so it was open seating, and Alex was plonked right in the middle of two dozen scousers on a stag do. Luckily, nobody has recognized him, Manchester United’s FA Cup goalkeeper who had thwarted Liverpool’s treble in 1977. At this stage, Alex admitted to me that he thought I’d set him up, that it was all a wind-up. He was relieved to see me get on the plane that day.
We’ve had some laughs on the trips. Any time you go away with Paddy Crerand there’s going to be some sort of amusement. We’ve had some great times. It’s a privileged position to be in, but I’ve created it for myself. I like to think that the people who bring me over on the trips get entertained. I give ‘em a good sing-song, and they seem to enjoy my company, because they always ask me back.
JS: Moving on to current MUFC-related topics, what’s your opinion of Moyes, and United’s current transitional phase generally? I’m personally a firm believer that, even if he eventually proves to be ineffective, Moyes should be given time at least. He was selected, and in the process, vindicated by SAF, whose judgment should more than suffice. It might take a few years to get things right, but football supporters nowadays seem awfully fickle and unfeasibly impatient.
PB: I agree, Jonny. I understand that fans pay a lot to watch the team, and that players earn a lot of money to play, but I’m quite embarrassed by the general football fan’s way of thinking. People already questioning Moyes’ appointment.
I don’t know how good Mickey Phelan was as a coach for United. Nobody knows. But Fergie appointed him, and we had some success whilst he occupied the position. People also questioned Jim Ryan, who Fergie trusted for so long. Fergie even entrusted Jim to manage the team back in ’98 vs Middlesbrough at Old Trafford when Fergie had to attend a funeral.
David Moyes was not a kneejerk reaction. It was obviously planned, and been thought through. Some people may have wanted someone like Mourinho, but David Moyes in some ways, is the last of the old-school, Fergie/Busby/Shankley sort of manager. Nobody likes to see us get beat. But we’ve had some bad times under Fergie. People just don’t really realize how lucky they’ve been in the last two decades. There’s an onslaught calling for Moyes to go because we’ve had an average start and lost a few games. So what if we don’t make the top 4?! I don’t want us to fail in anything, but we have to build and restructure the club. Of course it’s a different situation to when Fergie took over, because Moyes has inherited the Champions, but at the end of the day, things need changing. Plenty of new faces have been appointed, but some people won’t give them a chance.
I’m embarrassed by people calling for Moyes’ head and slagging off everything about the club. They don’t know who Jimmy Lumsden really is, and neither do I. They don’t know the new backroom staff, and I’m no expert either. The backroom staff have worked with Moyes, and we have to get behind them. Fergie, our greatest ever manager, has faith in David Moyes. He’s had a strong influence on Moyes, who is now building his own team, and running things his own way. Surely Fergie deserves the respect for us to give the guy a chance. Moyes performed well as Everton manager, showing steady progression. Of course it’s a much bigger job at MUFC, and time will tell whether he does it right. But, I’m embarrassed by some Reds. They’ve become the sort of impatient fans that they used to slag off in the past, like Chelsea or City fans who want managers sacked after short periods. I know the game’s changed, and people want success quicker. But I was really pleased when United announced a six-year deal for Moyes, because it made a statement that we do things properly. There were no ultimatums made to Moyes about having to win or qualify for tournaments. That might change.
We all have opinions, we are all experts, and we all used to question when Fergie would field a weaker team, instead of playing the strongest side possible and then bringing on the fringe players. If managing was that easy, we’d all do it. There’s a reason why we aren’t all successful managers. People such as Moyes have worked in football a long time, and he’s been appointed by our club. Fans should stop being so spoilt and give the man a chance.
JS: You’ve completely echoed my sentiments Pete, which I expressed at the start of the season and maintain still now.
PB: Younger Reds have only known success. A disappointing season might have been when Arsenal won the league, or Blackburn won the league, or Chelsea won it for a couple of years. But that is not a barren spell. We are always there or thereabouts. All I ever wanted was one league title. After ’85, the way we started and then threw it away, I always thought we’d never do it in my lifetime. And then after ’92, I was just sure we’d never do it.
I remember in ’94, the year we won the second consecutive Premiership. It was the week when Eric had been sent off twice, against Swindon and Arsenal. All the papers were full of claims that United’s title hopes were finished, willing us to fail as per usual. I headed down to Old Trafford ticket office, where it used to be, outside the away end.
At that time, I’d only met Fergie once previously at a hotel, but he didn’t know me personally like he does now. As I arrived at the ground, he was just coming out, and I caught his attention, shook his hand, and spoke to him. He could have easily made his excuses and left, but he listened to me for a few minutes. I said to him; “Alex, all I ever wanted was one league title. So, no matter what happens this season, or the next, or any other season, if we never win it again, I’ll still die a happy man.” And I thanked him. He listened to me intently, digesting what I said. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him a few times and get to know him, but I’ll always remember that moment. I meant it.
JS: Quality Pete. Regarding Wayne Rooney, I noticed that a few renditions of the “White Pele” was chanted by the majority of the L Stand when the section was first trialled against Sociedad. Whilst admiring his performances and application so far this season, I personally won’t sing his name in the near future. What’s your personal stance on singing his name following the multiple transfer requests?
PB: It just shows, as with everything in football nowadays, everyone’s so bloody fickle aren’t they?! Look at Liverpool fans with Suarez, and United with Rooney. At the time, I was of the opinion that if he genuinely put in a transfer request, then he probably wants to go. But there are two sides to every story, and we all know how much agents try to engineer moves. Putting in one transfer request is possibly forgivable, but twice means he has to go. I basically sat on the fence; I didn’t slag him off, but I was happy to let him go if he didn’t want to play for us. I actually did think he would leave, but I was also prepared to be won around. It’s been quite a turnaround in that he’s been the one giving it all he’s got and we would probably miss him wouldn’t we?!
JS: Absolutely yes, that’s the irony of the situation I suppose. I was still surprised that his name was being chanted so soon after the summer transfer request debacle. Did you set the song off, or join in?
PB: Well, I didn’t start the song that night, but maybe people are just fickle. But also, if you’re being honest about it, he has been our best player when the team has been laboring this season. I think football supporters in this country are pretty fickle, as are the players, like Steven Gerrard when he was kissing his badge against Chelsea and Liverpool fans think he’s great again.
JS: And on a similar note, I also heard the “Hey Jude” Keano cover emanating from the Singing Section, this following Fergie’s book release and public spat with Roy. This also surprised me. What’s your stance on that?
PB: To be honest, I was more uncomfortable and surprised with the Keano chant, and I certainly didn’t start it that night. It was a bit of a slap in the face to Fergie. Although nobody could ever doubt what a great leader Keane was, he does seem a bit bitter towards United going off several things he’s said. Sometimes I think he’s trying to be controversial, and say the opposite to what people might expect, just for the sake of it. Almost like Morrissey sometimes, just to get a reaction. Although I like both Morrissey and Keane, sometimes I think there’s no real need to it, just trying too hard to be different when it comes to certain opinions.
I did think it was a bit strange. At the end of the day, Keane was a great leader, but it was Fergie who moulded all the teams together. I only wish he wasn’t slagging some of our ex-players but it’s the sort of world we live in.
JS: And finally for today, I was just wondering, as United’s most recognisable everyday supporter, do you receive a lot of vitriol from opposing fans on Twitter?
PB: Yes and No; I don’t welcome it, so I have a blocked account on Twitter. When I had it open for a bit, I got a bit of abuse. I still get a bit of abuse from time to time. It’s funny though; over all the years, and all the stick I’ve received, I’ve only had two people say something threatening to me in all my life. And that’s pretty amazing when you think that in the mid-90s, when I came to prominence and I was quite well-known, I used to DJ in a bar in town that was full of some of City’s lads who liked the music.
So people who go on forums; it’s like that lad who threw the coin at Bellamy, and all the City fans said they were going to do him; they’d got his address on the internet. On the day that he went to court, I just turned up as an observer; not one person turned up to even abuse him or shout at him. People are hard obviously when they’re drunk, or on the internet.
I’ve got to be careful when I go to places like Anfield; I wouldn’t be able to go on a night out in Liverpool at any time of the year, and probably the same in Leeds nowadays. Even on the rare occasion I go out in Manchester, I’ll watch myself and be wary. Plenty of people knew where I was when I used to be in town a lot; where I worked, where I DJ’d. Usually in prominent places, and it was well-known; I didn’t hide it, and I never had any grief. By no means am I saying “come and have a go at me.” But there’s more chance of getting online abuse than anything physical.
I used to publish my old number on the forums when I used to do coaches, and you’d get a few phone calls now and again. It was quite amusing because some people would forget to withhold their number, so I’d save their numbers to my phone as “dodgy blue” or “dodgy scouse.” I had about 7 numbers like this in my phone at one stage. When I used to go to one of my old jobs, I’d be up at 3a.m., and I’d always give them a call and wake them up. Eventually that all changed, and dried up fortunately.
I do have a few opposing fans who follow me; fans of Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Spurs, Arsenal, City and a few smaller clubs. But it’s all people who are respectful, and I respect them. Now and again someone copies me in on a tweet, and I’ll look through some of their other tweets, and if they look a bit dodgy, I’ll just block them.
JS: That sounds like a sensible policy, Pete.
Follow Pete on Twitter @PeteBoyle70 and visit PeteBoyle.co.uk